Scientists discover prehistoric Kite Runner

Scientists have discovered an ancient animal that carried its young in pouches or capsules tethered to the parent’s body like tiny, swirling kites.

The miniscule creature, Aquilonifer spinosus, was an arthropod that lived about 430 million years ago. It grew to less than half an inch long, and there is only one known fossil of the animal, found in Herefordshire, England. Its name comes from “aquila,” which means eagle or kite, and the suffix “fer,” which means carry and the team have dubbed it ‘Kite Runner’ after Khalid Hosseini’s 2003 novel.

The Kite Runner fossil shows 10 juveniles, at different stages of development, connected to the adult. The researchers interpret this to mean that the adult postponed molting until the juveniles were old enough to hatch; otherwise, the juveniles would have been cast aside with the shed skeleton.

The adult specimen’s head is eyeless and covered by a shield-like structure, according to the researchers, and it lived on the sea floor during the Silurian period.

Dorsal view.

Two juveniles, each with a tether.

Professor David Siveter of our Department of Geology said: "Examples in which juveniles are associated with the parent are very rare in the fossil record. This particular association of fossils, from 430 million-year-old rocks from Herefordshire, shows remarkable preservation and a unique brooding strategy - in which each of the developing young are tethered to the adult by a fine thread. The fossil deposit in the Welsh Borderland was originally discovered by Leicester geologists and continues to produce exciting and important scientific discoveries which help elucidate aspects of the history of life."